Monday, September 03, 2007

Long overdue reading update - Part 1

It has been a while since my last reading update. There is a lot to write about. The backlog is long enough to provide material for 3 or more posts. The others will follow soon.

Here is the first part of the list
  • Traders, Guns and Money by Satyajit Das : A very readable book, with interesting details on trades gone bad. Some of the derivatives blowups explained here require an understanding of more than addition and subtraction, but if you cannot take the effort to read and understand this book, I would argue that you shouldn't be investing in anything. The recent series of hedge fund mishaps just induces a sense of deja vu. The next edition of this book will hopefully see the numerous typos fixed!
  • Tales from nowhere by Various authors : A collection of mostly short travel stories with interesting twists in the journeys. Good companion books would be The Lonely Planet Guide to the Middle of Nowhere and Badlands: A Tourist on the Axis of Evil. I haven't read these two but a few minutes of browsing indicated that they are worthy reads.
  • Marriage, a History: From Obediency to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz - This book is filled with interesting facts about marriage as the idea progressed through the ages. But it is a hard read given the odd organization of material and too many subjective comments by the author. While the book is supposed to be a history of marriage around the world, it deals mostly with the Western hemisphere. Even with these drawbacks, there is a lot to learn here - from the evolution of the definition of incest (you will be surprised!) to the customs of the Na people in China, apparently the only society without any concept of marriage or like institution.
  • Global soul : Jet Lag, Shopping Malls and the Search For Home by Pico Iyer: Not one of Iyer's best. Filled with long words, and even longer sentences, at times enough to give the reader a bad headache. If you have read The Lady and The Monk or some other earlier work of Iyer, you will be disappointed. That said, the stories here do give some interesting glimpses of lives of immigrants, refugees and expats.
  • Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project by Spencer Wells - A chronicling of the effort to map mankind's migration and population of the world. Neatly organized, and the website offers even more interesting tools. The project is ongoing, and hence at some places, non-genetic clues (linguistic etc) have been used to extrapolate. There may still be a bit of old-school "we came first" showing through in such extrapolations. But hopefully they will go away with the eventual finer mapping. If the theories here are correct, there are some startling facts to reconsider about race, purity etc that still holds, unfortunately, way too much significance in this world. Looks like deep down we are all mutts, given the right timescale!
  • Empires of the word: A Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler - a stunningly beautiful work. While it goes into linguistic details, the average person can easily understand, or skip such portions, without losing much of the theme. Having used the contents of this book to quiz a few people, I must say that reading this will lead to some much required enlightenment!
Previous reading update.


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